Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving from Partners' F2F Team!

Thanksgiving is traditionally a day to give thanks for the yearly harvest. Because of the hard work and dedication of our Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers and in-country staff and partners, rural farmers throughout Latin America are thankful for being able to take strides towards a higher quality and more productive harvest.

The staff at Partners of the Americas would also like to extend its gratitude to its F2F volunteers, funders, and the Partners network for helping to change the lives of others. The Farmer-to-Farmer program is crucial for providing people-to-people exchanges and promoting sustainable economic growth and development. Whether our volunteers work with dairy farmers in Nicaragua, beekeepers in Haiti, mushroom exporters in Guatemala, or climate change NGOs in the DR, they all play a key role in helping us improve the lives and food security of others.

Partners' HQ Farmer-to-Farmer Team
From left, Courtney Dunham, Peggy Carlson (Director),
Adriana Robertson, and Andi Thomas

Friday, November 21, 2014

Farmer-to-Farmer Experts Help Support the Next Generation of Agricultural Leaders

Feed the Future, the US government's global hunger and food security initiative, recently highlighted some of their work around the world focused on young people and universities. Some of the stories featured include highlighting the work of a Cochran Fellow on improving dairy production in East Africa; promoting agribusiness opportunities for youth in Armenia; and sharing the work of Peace Corps volunteers in Ethiopia who are inspiring youth to think creatively about how to address environmental challenges.

One important story focused on the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program. F2F leverages the expertise of volunteers from U.S. farms, land grant universities, cooperatives, private agribusiness firms and nonprofit farm organizations to respond to the local needs of host country farmers and organizations. The article - U.S. Farmers and Technical Experts Support the Next Generation of Agricultural Leaders - shared how part of this effort includes supporting youth and university students, building their capacity to advance agriculture and food security in their home countries.

Among the volunteers featured was Partners of the Americas' volunteer Maggie Morse. Ms. Morse traveled to Boyacá, Colombia, in part to to support a young entrepreneur program run by the Government of Colombia’s National Learning Service (SENA). The program partners with local universities to increase food security and mitigate migration from rural communities to urban centers working with small agricultural enterprises. Young entrepreneurs are matched with advisors who assist them in creating a business plan, implementing basic accounting and record-keeping, and developing other critical business skills. But advisors in the young entrepreneur program often lack technical knowledge to help improve the quantity and quality of agricultural production. That’s why Ms. Morse's expertise in value addition, improved nutrition, livestock management and agritourism were such an asset to the program.

You can read more about the assignment on the Feed the Future website and also elsewhere on the Partners F2F blog. If you would like to access the full Feed the Future newsletter, it can be found here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Building Tomorrow's Leaders in Climate Change

In the Dominican Republic, helping communities adapt to the effects of climate change also means building the capacity of the next generation of leaders to promote and implement initiatives to reduce risk. Partners’ Farmer-to-Farmer program not only assists producers in the Yaque del Norte region, but also collaborates with local universities and environmental schools to achieve this goal. In October, F2F volunteer, Usha Palaniswamy, the current Associate Dean and a professor of math and science at Strayer Univesity in Florida, traveled to the DR to work with the Jarabacoa National School of the Environment and Natural Resources (Jarabacoa Environmental School). The objective of her assignment was to incorporate a greater focus on climate change into the current curricula, as well as introduce strategies for adaptation and mitigation.
Usha meets with school faculty to discuss
 incorporating climate change
into the current curriculum

The Jarabacoa Environmental School is located in the municipality of Jarabacoa and offers a 2-year associate degree that builds students’ technical skills and prepares them to obtain jobs in the government and other institutions. The school has on-site soil conservation and agroforestry projects, tree nurseries, and other plots where students gain hands-on technical skills. Approximately 50 students per year graduate. Students are also able to live on the campus in small 2-3 room dorms that have electricity and running water.

After receiving a tour of the campus and meeting with faculty to get a sense of their roles, current extracurricular activities, and course descriptions, Usha started her work on the curriculum. She began with developing a survey to assess the student level of knowledge on climate change and the extent to which they were environmentally friendly in their daily life practices. She then used this information to develop a 15-week module. Usha said, “These modules factor in major impacts of climate change in food and nutrition security and a wide range of key adaptation and mitigation strategies and practices that are closely related to the daily lives of students.” The modules include an introductory course on climate change as well as techniques to incorporate climate change components into other current courses and extracurricular activities. Usha presented the curriculum to the faculty, and it is set to be adopted in January 2015.
F2F volunteer, Usha Palaniswamy, at the Jarabacoa Environmental School

Usha also met with the school administration to discuss the challenges of engaging students on the topic of climate change. One challenge is that while student transcripts reflect the technical skills students gain from their extra-curricular activities, knowledge gained on climate change is not currently viewed as a technical skill. As a result of these observations, the Jarabacoa Environmental School, F2F field staff, and Partners of the Americas are discussing how to address these challenges with two environmental education specialists from Wisconsin. In February, these two specialists are scheduled to travel to the DR to build off of Usha's curriculum and potentially create a certification for students who complete the climate change module at the Jarabacoa Environmental School.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Nicaragua's Beef Industry Seeks to Increase Competitiveness

F2F volunteer, Doussou Traore,  with a CONAGAN representative
Although Nicaragua has the greatest potential for livestock production in Latin America, the creation of value-added products is one of the lowest. This lack of added value reduces domestic and international competitiveness of the dairy and beef sector and limits the generation of employment and foreign currency. Furthermore, reduced incentives to implement sustainable, environmentally-conscious production methods have limited the ability of the livestock industry to penetrate more competitive niche markets with higher purchasing power. 

Traore meets with  CANICARNE and CONAGAN representatives
To support the Nicaraguan livestock industry in increasing their competitiveness and access to niche markets, Partners' F2F program is providing technical assistance to dairy and beef farmers in marketing and good agricultural practices. This month, F2F volunteer Ms. Doussou Traore traveled to Nicaragua to work with the Nicaraguan Chamber of Beef Industry Exports (CANICARNE) and the National Cattleman’s Commission of Nicaragua (CONAGAN) to conduct an assessment on the beef supply chain. 

Ms. Traore visits a slaughterhouse in Tipitapa
Her initial assessment included an analysis of the production, growth, feed, and slaughter of cattle.  She also analyzed and proposed incentives to improve the quality and competitiveness of beef production. Ultimately, a better understanding of the different actors and price incentives along the value chain will provide insight into the willingness and ability of the beef industry to increase their competitiveness (breeding, shorter cattle life cycle, and improved feeding practices); and thereby the per unit prices of beef.

Upon concluding her trip, Ms. Traore recommended that a cost production study be undertaken to inform the process of improving productivity and competitiveness. She described this is as being especially important for export markets, since they are the primary source of demand. Among other recommendations, Ms. Traore encouraged CANICARNE and CONAGAN to set up an inter-professional platform for all supply chain participants to promote transparency, concerted decision-making, and profit sharing within the industry.  

To follow up on these recommendations, marketing expert, Daniel Shaneyfelt, arrived to Nicaragua this week.  F2F looks forward to the continued growth and accomplishments of its hosts and to the contributions of volunteers like Ms. Traore!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Partners' F2F Team in Guatemala Attends the 6th National Convention on Organic Agriculture

Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) field staff in Guatemala held a booth at the 6th National Convention on Organic Agriculture on Monday, October 6. F2F volunteer, Wayne Burleson, also attended the Conference to lead train the trainer (TOT) workshops on using local inputs to produce organic fertilizer. Stay tuned for updates from his trip report and see minute 6:29 of the video below for an interview (in Spanish) with our Country Director, José Cano.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Call for Volunteers: Haiti

Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer program is currently recruiting volunteers for several coffee-related assignments in Haiti. Please take a look at the list of volunteer opportunities below!

GPS & Mapping Specialist (November 2014 – February 2015: 2-3 weeks)
The volunteer will assist host organizations and farmers in surveying their coffee production areas and assign GPS coordinates to them. These coordinates will provide a means to assist producers in deciding where to plant new seedlings for maximum harvest. This information will also be used to help farmers separate higher altitude beans from lower altitude ones in order to increase their economic gain.

Coffee Soil Analyst (November 2014 – March 2015: 2 weeks)
The purpose of this assignment is 1) to help coffee cooperatives and farmers understand the relationships between soil and coffee quality, and the relationship between soil and the sustainability of coffee trees on the plantations and 2) to inform best practices of coffee production, working in partnership to evaluate current practices and suggest areas for improvement. The volunteer(s) will assist farmers in testing soil characteristics such as acidity, fertility, etc. and their implications for coffee quality. Volunteer(s) should have experience in soil research/management and knowledge of the relationship between soil characteristics and coffee production.

Coffee Harvesting Educator (November 2014 - March 2015: 2-3 weeks)

Benito Jasmin. F2F Haiti Coordinator, examining coffee seedlings
The volunteer(s) will work alongside an in-country team to train coffee producers on best harvesting processes and help them develop outreach/education tools to disseminate the information to other farmers throughout the country. The purpose of this assignment is to help farmers and local organizations understand why it is crucial to harvest coffee beans at a particular ripeness and how this is correlated to economic profit. This will also help coffee cooperatives in pricing the coffee they receive from producers and help producers improve harvesting practices.

Coffee Branding and Marketing Strategist (January – April 2015: 2-3 weeks)
The volunteer(s) will work with 2-3 coffee cooperatives to develop their strategic branding and marketing plans. The purpose of this assignment is to create new strategies to reach potential markets and buyers both within Haiti and also internationally. The volunteer should have experience in agribusiness development and/or strategic planning and will be expected to produce a draft of a formal branding and marketing plan with action steps and work plans for each cooperative before departing the country. 

In the other sectors, some upcoming assignments include small animal meat quality assurance, small animal marketing and training videos, queen bee rearing and performance, and hive product outreach and marketing.

Please contact Andi Thomas at for more information. As always, our in-country bilingual field staff coordinate logistics and F2F covers volunteer travel, housing, food, and other related costs. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Next Steps for Improved Forestry and Water Quality in the DR

The Dominican Republic has made significant progress in reversing the trend of slash and burn agriculture over the past 30 years. Numerous projects such as mini-greenhouse construction, mini-hydroelectric generator plants, and reforestation of previously farmed land on steep slopes are also allowing individuals and communities to improve their lives and health while reducing the impact on the environment. In the area of agroforestry, the Dominican Republic government is encouraging private landowners to reforest their land by ensuring that they will be able to harvest the trees at a later date. This has led to an increased amount of forested land in the country, and many of these plantations now have trees large enough for commercial harvest operations. However, as these plantations get older, the trees grow closer together and wood growth begins to slow. In order to maintain forest health, optimize growth, and increase carbon storage (to reduce greenhouse gases), trees with slower growth and poor form need to be harvested to allow the healthier, higher quality trees to grow faster and store more carbon.
Yaque del Norte watershed

In September 2014, Partners of the Americas sent three Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers - Glen Juergens, Dave Lombardo, and Bill Ryburn - to the Dominican Republic to assess the current agroforestry systems in the Rio Yaque del Norte watershed. The F2F volunteer team also worked with host organization, Plan Yaque, to develop plans for forest management and trained farmers in watershed protection and forest management.  They assisted 34 individuals during their 18-day assignment and made a variety of recommendations on:

  • Water quality monitoring
  • Land use planning
  • Pine silviculture and reforestation
  • Forest management/best management practices
  • Payment for environmental services
  • Sawmills and lumber harvesting

Below are excerpts from Dave, Glen, and Bill's trip reports that summarize observations, findings, and potential next steps for the Farmer-to-Farmer program: 

Water Quality Monitoring

Dave, Glen, Bill, and the F2F staff visit tree nursery
Plan Yaque has a very comprehensive water quality monitoring program. They presently are taking 11 different data measurements for water quality and quantity: pH, ammonia, nitrates/nitrogen, E-coli, temperature, electrical conductivity, dissolved oxygen in ml/L and %, turbidity, volume of water flow, depth of stream, and depth Secchi. Water monitoring is conducted twice a month at 46 permanent sampling points in different bodies of water within the Río del Yaque Norte watershed. In addition, there is a monitoring system developed to measure the amount of plastics put into the rivers. The next step is for Plan Yaque to develop target numbers and establish measured goals for the reduction of contaminants.

Land Use Planning

Due to climate change, it is anticipated that rainfall as well as droughts will be more intense and of longer duration, which will result in increased flooding of rivers. Therefore, the team strongly recommends that a long term management plan be in place before reforestation projects are implemented. The plans need to be comprehensive and should address erosion and sedimentation issues, water quality, timber production potential, agroforestry, pre- and post-harvest silviculture treatments, wildlife habitat improvement, and any other critical environmental concerns

Pine Silviculture and Reforestation

Dave, Glen, and Bill on the log haul tractor
There are three species of pine planted in the Dominican Republic. Plan Yaque, the National Environmental School in Jarabacoa, agricultural universities in Santiago, and other higher education institutions in the Río del Yaque Norte watershed should develop guidelines of what species to plant. If to be utilized for timber in rich soils at lower elevations (from 0 to 600 meters above sea level) they may want to utilize P. caribaea, but if for non-timber production, for soil protection in poorer soils, or at higher elevations, they may want to utilize P. occidentalis. The wood of P. occidentalis is considered to be of higher quality due to its slower growth. In addition, valuable hardwood species such as mahogany (Swietenia spp.), Spanish-cedar (Cedrela odorata), guama (Inga vera), etc. and fruit trees such as avocado (Persea americana) should be considered where appropriate, including using them as shade trees in coffee plantations.

Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer program looks forward to following up on these findings and continuing to help host organizations protect the Yaque del Norte watershed!